Lately, I have been very interested in the theory of love. I know this might sound counterintuitive, because a lot of people believe that love isn’t something that can be rationalized. It is supposed to be free, passionate—something you don’t have to think about. But I don’t buy that. I think love is work, and I am curious about the ways in which I can become better at it.
Recently, I began to build a love with someone else, another person who wanted this commitment as much as I did. I could say we “fell” in love, but I don’t think that’s the right terminology for what love feels like to me. Rather, we met, and we figured out that a love was not only possible, but almost necessary between us. We both agreed to continuously act upon this feeling of love, to honour it and feed it as much as we could. I entered a relationship with this person, and it was extremely easy for a while.
But here is the tricky part, the part that this article is really about; this person lied to me. They lied to me by not telling me something about themselves, something that may have seemed trivial to them, but was extremely important to me. The lie was not blatant, but rather an omission, made over the course of many months. When they finally told me, it was a shock, and I felt I had to grieve. Was I upset? Yes, of course. Was it a betrayal? Yes, I think so. Was it unforgivable? Well, no. It wasn’t.
In All About Love: New Visions, feminist author bell hooks states the following: “When we face pain in relationships our first response is often to sever bonds rather than to maintain commitment.” It is almost a reflex; pain incites a rejection, a pushing away of whatever it is that hurt us. This makes sense. This is normal. However, I would argue that it isn’t always necessary.
hooks goes on to explain: “Relationships are treated like Dixie cups. They are the same. They are disposable. If it does not work, drop it, throw it away, get another.” I see this all the time in romantic as well as platonic relationships around me. Especially with the rise of dating apps (I’m not dissing them at all, in fact, my significant other and I met on Tinder—it’s effective as hell), I think it has become easier to take people for granted, because they seem so replaceable.
When the person I had begun to construct a loving relationship with admitted that they had in some way wronged me, I was tempted to end it, if only so that I could stop putting in work. As my best friend, Celeste, told me recently: “Relationships take up so much real estate in our brains.” We spend so much time working on them, deliberating in our mind about what course of action to take. There are always two options: keep going or end it, and sometimes they both seem equally unbearable. But, as I mentioned previously, I had been studying the theory of love, and I wanted to see what I could do to make this better. I wanted to try my hand at repairing a breach in trust.
The following are a few main steps I’ve noticed and put together in the process of healing myself and rebuilding trust. Before I start explaining, a disclaimer: this process only had a chance of working because my partner assumed complete responsibility for their actions and worked with me through every step. In no way do I encourage trying to work things out with someone who doesn’t respect or listen to you, or doesn’t want to be held accountable for how they hurt you.
Also, this isn’t by any means an all-encompassing guide; it’s just what has worked and continues to work for me, and I’m sharing it in hopes that it might help someone else too.
You already know that this incident has caused emotional pain in your life, but you have chosen to try and surmount this pain. This means you must be prepared for a large, if not overwhelming, amount of emotional labour. Accept the temporary absence of trust.
There are two parts to this step: on one hand, “open up” here means to try and remain compassionate. Even if you are angry, if you can see things from the other person’s point of view, it will help you let go of resentment. On the other hand, “open up” also means that you should remain honest and in touch with them. I think that one of the most important aspects, if not <i>the</i> most important aspect, of mending my relationship with my partner has been my relentless questioning and communication with them about the impact of their actions and the progress we have made—or lack thereof. If you are not sure about something, if you have a question or an opinion, voice it.
It is crucial to put your own feelings first in this kind of situation. I find it can be quite hard to find a balance between being compassionate and standing your ground. Often, I would feel guilty for constantly bringing up my hurt feelings to my partner, because I didn’t want them to feel bad. So, I tried to rush the healing process. But as my friend Celeste reminded me (thanks Celeste, you rock), it’s important not to conflate “feeling better” with “healing.” The latter takes time and effort and, you guessed it, commitment.
Ask yourself: why?
Why did I make this particular choice, that is, the choice to work through these issues? Why do I want to conserve the bond between myself and this other person? Why is it worth it? Although you may have asked yourself these questions towards the beginning, it is important to constantly remind yourself of why you made this decision. I don’t think it matters if your reasoning is rational, but you probably do have a reason. This is also a good time to evaluate your relationship. How much is the other person putting into it? I cannot stress enough that none of this will work if you are the only one making an effort.
Go from there.
Now that you have an approximate answer to these questions, you can be better prepared for conflict in the future. For me, my answer to the previous questions was: “Because I know that this was a one-time thing, and I know that I can continue loving this person to the best of my ability, and that they will continue to love and support me.” I found that a breech in trust doesn’t have to mean the end. It doesn’t have to hinder your relationship or give you “trust issues.”
It can be an opportunity for broadening the meaning of your relationship and the bond between you and someone else.